Grace Andreacchi in conversation with V. Ulea
This interview first appeared in Sein und Werden Magazine
V.Ulea. Just after my Quantum Manifesto appeared in Sein und Werden, and Crossing Chaos made a call for submissions for the quantum anthology (Quantum Genre in the Planet of Arts), I received a letter from Rachel Kendall, the editor of Sein und Werden, in which she asked me to review your new book, Scarabocchio. And there she copied your letter to her in which you specifically wrote: “'Scarabocchio' is not an 'easy' book, so I'd recommend you send it only to someone with a fairly complicated head. If you know what I mean...” O, my, thought I, simultaneously responding “Yes, of course! Send it along!” But I wasn’t sure anymore. I’m still not sure, and the uncertainty will stay with me forever regardless of my painstaking analysis and research and conversation we had in the most delicious Lebanese restaurant in the UK where you and your husband generously invited us after my review-article was published… That meeting contributed even more to the quantum obscurity from which your unique novel was generated, and those odd worlds on its pages multiplied even faster through the growing number of interpretations that even you, their creator, couldn’t govern anymore. They captivated me forever, making me their prodigal daughter who keeps mentally returning to them.
Reading Scarabocchio has been a stunning experience for me not only because the work itself was outstanding, but also because it was in complete accord with the ideas I had just expressed in the Manifesto. Everything from plot to characters was in perfect alliance with my hypothetical statements regarding quantum fiction as a type of experimental, not genre, literature. As if illustrating the main points in the Manifesto your characters flooded my space, appearing as continuations of each other and of themselves, constantly diversifying - just as musical themes that blossom through their multiple variations. They gushed forth like mythopoëic waves, like voices in a fugue, flowing into one another, modulating, and begetting the next chain of variations-characters, some of which preserved the core while others began to form new “branches.”
As I mentioned in the review, a whimsical interlacing of the ideas introduced by Weimar Classicism (including its central concept of harmony and synthesis of Ancient Greek literature and romanticism) and those expressed by Glenn Gould (whose own path can be described as “reconciliation” with Romanticism through Wagner and Strauss) creates a contrapuntal discourse between artists and thinkers of all times. Therefore I called your novel “a contrapuntal movement of characters from the “southbound mouth”[i] to the northbound mind” and from the hedonistic summer to the Puritanical winter where the purple color of the passions yields to the grey color of brain and where the supreme reason is immersed in the endless metamorphic game of ever-changing and never-repeated forms: there are “twenty-five trillion snowflakes and each one different from all the others.”
I was mesmerized by the numerous “inverted themes”, and “mirror fugues” conveyed through the gleaming mirrors and vacillating reflections which expanded realities by mixing temporal and spacial[Is that right?] borders. Your successful implementation of the quantum and contrapuntal technique made me think that, perhaps, the independent and simultaneously played voices in the fugue are analogous to the expanding parallel worlds in quantum reality, and this explains why the physical and musical realms sound so harmoniously in the multidimensional canvas of Scarabocchio. And the characters… They appear like themes and variations, constantly mutating, but still preserving the core that makes them recognizable.
Grace Andreacchi. You’ve put your finger on something there, it’s true I was thinking often in musical paradigms, particularly, but not exclusively in the ‘Barton Beale’ passages. I mean, it’s pretty obvious if you label something ‘Contrapunctus’ you’re thinking of a musical structure there, and those passages or interludes, the various ‘Contrapuncti’ that punctuate the narrative and serve as brief glimpses into Barton Beale’s inner world, are written as a kind of musical joke (if you will) – there’s a struggle going on as BB seeks to order the natural world according to his exclusively musical ideas, and by the natural world I mean here also the inner world, for he doesn’t actually perceive the difference, if there is one. But the ‘Contrapuncti’ are only the most readily visible of the musical forms in Scarabocchio, announcing themselves as they do – there are others, more secretive, that only reveal themselves to the careful reader. Certainly you are right when you say the theme-and variations idea is used extensively. Particularly the Goldberg Variations, of course, are deeply embedded in the narrative. I’ve always admired the way Bach or Mozart is able to take a tune and stand it on its head and string it along, torment it, prettify it, glorify it, ridicule it, and somehow it’s the same tune – only it isn’t – or is it? I think this a much more interesting structure than the boring linear narrative that characterises much fiction, and much closer to actual ‘reality’, whatever that may be. I mean, we don’t live life in a straight line, do we? We don’t actually experience time as a continual narrative, and I’m not referring here to the infamous ‘stream of consciousness’ either. I think our actual apprehensions take place on so many levels at once, and these many threads are multi-coloured, infinitely varied. A thought has not one meaning but so many, and is interconnected to so many others – I see a beautiful church and what do I see? So many things at once – past, present and future, personal and fantastical and spiritual – all in a moment these things coexist in my mind, and it is this richness, for example (this is just one example, you understand) that I would compare to the theme and variations. Then the characters and their inter-relationships become like these many-coloured threads, weaving a rich tapestry or soundscape if you like, which is the book, the world of Scarabocchio.
There’s a musical joke/secret/clue at the very heart of Scarabocchio – I put it there the way an architect puts a great lantern over the croisée in a medieval cathedral, to let in the light, to show off, to do something satisfying with symmetry. This occurs in the fourth chapter, the one that contains the account of the child’s murder. You’ll notice it begins with the musical directive ‘tantôt libre, tantôt recherchée’- there’s certainly a clue for you! And the opening passage is a purported entry from the Encyclopaedia Univeralis on ‘heaven’. Just what the nature of this so-called Encyclopaedia may be I will pass over in silence. But if you turn to the back of the chapter, you will see it ends with an entry from this very same Encyclopaedia, the one for ‘hell’. At the exact centre point between these two encyclopaedia entries is a page that bears the single directive: Vade retro, Satanas! The musically literate reader will easily recognise here the playful injunction common to those fugues known as ‘inverted’ – it means, roughly, now sing the same notes only upside down and backwards. This chapter is structured exactly like an inverted or ‘mirror’ fugue – from the point of that musical injunction the various elements (letters, diary narratives, etc.) do in fact run upside down and backwards, as it were. So for example, if you look at the series of letters (from the Poet, from Carolina Lily, from Beethoven) every letter is balanced by another letter, that is its exact opposite in meaning. I was also thinking of my favourite poet, Jean Racine, who managed to write his most perfect play Andromaque, in such a way that the exact turning point of the drama occurs at the dead centre of the text. Up to that point things all run in one direction, and after that they all run in the other direction. It’s magnificent! And I was very struck by this, how the perfect symmetry adds a kind of formal beauty and weight to the drama, and it’s more typical of musical than of literary art, that kind of perfection of form.
V.Ulea. Still, I’m sure that any great piece of art, no matter how symmetrical it may seem, contains deviations. Otherwise, it would be what I call the “imperfect perfection” – a completeness that exhausted its changeableness and ends in stillness, in dead beauty that is the opposite of the “perfect imperfection”, always semi-balanced and asymmetrical with a possibility to change. Your own well-considered contrapuntally organized composition resolves into indeterministic freedom of meanings owing to its asymmetrical structure, which made the piece bottomless.
Grace Andreacchi: As to perfection of form, by this I certainly do not mean to imply stasis. There’s a discussion in Scarabocchio, at that rather questionable dinner party of the Governor’s, where natural forms as paradigms for the artist are discussed at some length. The perfection of natural forms always contains an element of asymmetry within the symmetry – this was famously pointed up by one of my great mentors, John Ruskin, it’s the keystone to his understanding of gothic art. And it’s this asymmetry within symmetry that gives rise to the perpetuation of new forms.
V. Ulea: It’s the Abbess who quotes at the “questionable party” Ruskin’s famous statement from The Lamp of Sacrifice, saying “It is not the church we want, but the sacrifice”. Yes, Ruskin’s spirit of The Seven Lamps of Architecture is hovering over the Scarabocchio’s universe, making the Poet’s excitement over the ruins-skeleton rather one-sided (Ruskin’s concept of “marriage” between the soul and the body in architecture comes to mind). It seems that the ideas expressed in The Seven Lamps are also introduced in your novel like themes and their inversions and variations. I mean the themes of memory, sacrifice, power and the like, which correspond a great deal to the chapters of Ruskin’s work. O, what a rich, truly quantum fugue of thoughts and characters you’ve composed, Grace!.. I remember your main character’s, the Poet, speculations regarding the ruins he researches (The Stones of Monreale):
Why is it that the ruin is so often more interesting, and even more beautiful, than the finished building? (…) A ruin is a place full of mysteries revealed. I remember a block of smashed apartments that stood opposite the museum in Frankfurt when I was a child. One could see the way the pipes were fitted inside the walls and connected to toilets and showers, also how the staircases had been arranged, the shaft for the elevator - everything was revealed as in an anatomical drawing. I was fascinated by this spectacle, and never failed to observe it closely whenever I passed by the museum.
His fascination with the “uncovered” anatomic structure of the building is the naïve joy of a determinist who believes that now he holds the “key” to the architect’s mind. In Scarabocchio, the architectural constructions allude to the living beings and, at the same time, they convey a Goethean idea of “frozen music”, which connects the Temple of Segeste to Barton Beale’s idea of the north… I’m just thinking, how confused and angry the mainstream publisher would be after mooring to such a non-Euclidean shore. The clash of the non-Euclidean and Neanderthal mentalities is like a cultural Big Bang that threatens to destroy both sides. I remember some delightfully witty and humorous scenes in Scarabocchio which parody that clash. Could you talk a little bit more about mainstream literature and the market for anything that’s different?
Grace Andreacchi: You certainly open a whole can of worms there! Where to begin… It’s a situation that has been evolving for several decades and is still evolving in very interesting new ways. It’s a quantum situation, isn’t it? There are many kinds of writers, many kinds of readers, and many kinds of books, and the books I write are never going to appeal to a mass market. The problem arises when books are treated as a commodity like any other, ‘pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap’, this is the situation in which we find ourselves today in relation to the traditional literary marketplace. If you go back to a time before the total commodification of literature (but really I should say ‘of books’ because the irony is that you can’t turn literature into a commodity and still get literature), I’m not sure where exactly to place this golden age, for things have never been perfect for the artist to be sure – Lord Byron had trouble getting his later, more interesting verse accepted for publication. Having written the best-selling ‘Childe Harold’ he found that his publisher, John Murray, desired more of the same! And was anything but enthusiastic when Byron attempted to move on. And Virginia Woolf and her husband founded their own press to overcome hostility to her experimental style of writing. So there is always resistance from the literary establishment to work that is ‘different’. But, having said that, I would also say that, say, fifty years ago, an interesting writer had a much better chance of finding a publisher. I was first published in the 1980’s and it was already difficult then, but it was to get a whole lot worse. I travelled into a ‘perfect storm’ in that, as my own work was developing, becoming more idiosyncratic, more interesting and complex, the world of publishing was becoming ever more conservative. Small presses were bought out by large commercial ventures, books, including so-called ‘literary fiction’ were mass marketed using the tools of the trade, and I found myself out in the cold. Considering I’d already had two novels published to reasonably good reviews and a play produced in pretty decent theatres in both New York and Boston, this might have been because my writing was just rubbish, but I think I’m justified in seeking another explanation. I think the so-called literary establishment of the moment is a very grim place, a very very boring place – and I refer here specifically to the English language publishers. Things are a little different in, say, France for example, although they are moving in the same direction. If I were French (a thing I love to imagine, and for this lapse on the part of a loving God I can in no way account) I would in all likelihood be a well-known and well respected author, perhaps even a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres. Oh how I long to be made a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres…! That is probably not going to happen, malheureusement. Be that as it may, and to move the argument along, the commodification of literature has brought about this deep conservatism, as publishers seek to publish only those books that are guaranteed to sell many many copies. Now in truth publishers have no idea what will sell, if they did then publishing would not be the crap game that it is, and every title published would be a Dan Brown or a Harry Potter in terms of sales. So they guess, and how do they guess? That black art is founded basically on what has gone before. They look for books as like as possible to those books that have already sold many many copies and they say, ‘Good, let’s publish that.’ So anything new and different, anything interesting is immediately excluded ipso facto. This deadening philosophy reaches well beyond the world of best-selling trash, so-called literature has become completely infected by it. And there’s a whole world of literary prizes, ‘creative writing’ programs, and long-established critical journals, all mutually reinforcing this culture of conservatism.
Ah, the ‘creative writing’ program! Now I begin to roll my eyes and froth at the mouth… These programs, originally the offspring of the American universities with their touching ‘everyman’ mythology, promise to unlock the creative genius in every sensitive suburban soul, without regard to the fact that most kids are not geniuses, indeed, are not even interesting. They encourage and perpetuate a culture of mediocrity and conservatism. I would have them banned. In their place I’d like to see writing courses where kids are taught the basics of writing, by which I mean the simple toolkit: this is a noun, this is a verb, this has to agree with that, this is a dependent clause. I find it genuinely tragic that, when I do come across young writers of real talent, they are nearly always illiterate. They are utterly deficient in the basic knowledge of language and often convinced that it is of no importance, of no use to them. But how can you hope to write well if you cannot even write correctly? Language is of infinite complexity, that is its strength, and as a writer one ought to be a master of language, to use it with aplomb, flexibility, elegance and wit, let alone correctness. You see, I am turning into a grumpy old lady!
But there is good news as well, very good news, and the good news is that the internet has changed everything. A revolution is taking place which nobody could have foreseen, and it is setting writers free from the tyranny of the marketplace. Through the internet I am able to reach out directly to those readers who are interested in the sort of writing I have to offer. The world of traditional publishing is dead as far as I’m concerned, I no longer need them. What had become a dead end – writing serious and challenging literature for intelligent people – is now a wide open highway. O brave new world! It remains to be seen what sort of people, what sort of writers and readers we shall find there. Once again, and as in the days of the quill pen, the only limit is the human imagination.
It’s true my own imagination works in a way that you rightly refer to as ‘non-Euclidean’, but I have always believed there are plenty of people out there who like this sort of thing. Not everybody wants a boring and familiar book to take to bed at night. Some people enjoy complexity, and I believe the music of J.S. Bach still does pretty well.
V. Ulea: I want to believe it, too, Grace, and I’m quite optimistic regarding the changes the internet brings to innovative writers and publishers. I actually think that the mainstream publishers have been detached from reality for quite some time. Their idea of the Reader is artificial and ridiculous, and the collapse of the book industry is a great confirmation of it. Judging by the mainstream fiction, the publisher thinks of the reader as of a dummy that reads the same story in numerous variations with the same interest, spending more and more money on the same old, year after year, unable to see that he is fooled.
Meanwhile, surfeited with the miraculously growing menu of junk books, the Reader seeks intellectual nutrition, but between him and the Book there is a Big Salesperson (BS) who proudly calls himself an agent. That chief cook claims he knows better what the Reader needs for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and like Cerberus he is put at the door of the Big Publisher/Merchant (BM) to guard it from the Writer and… the Reader. Their goals are opposite – the BS & BM want “the money” while the Reader wants the magic, and the idea of the magic is very different for each of them. But when the BM & BS face a fiasco they create another myth about the Reader, namely – that the Reader doesn’t like to read. Well, the BM just doesn’t want to admit that the Reader doesn’t like what the BS offers him. But then the boom with Harry Potter occurs, and the BM makes the greatest discovery of the century: the Reader actually does read, and when he likes what he reads he reads a lot, and avidly, and with passion… O, what a shock! It looks like the Reader has been kept on a diet for quite some time, and now, with that Harry Potter, he broke loose, and now he reads without stopping and demands more! Who kept him hungry for so long, anyway? Hmm… “Well, welcome back, dear Reader!” And those same agents who threw poor Potter into a trashcan began to hunt for something like it, rejecting anything unlike it… Incurably idiotic… The BP’s conservatism, as you put it, stems from its inability to elaborate a new approach to the market by switching from the statistics of the past sale to the Reader’s psychology that differs essentially from the psychology of the commoner – a buyer of material goods. Is a great intellect truly required to see that the Reader buys not the commodity but a ticket to the unknown? A middle school student would easily understand that Harry Potter attracted adults not because they all of a sudden wanted to read fantasy but because it was simply different. In fact, the market for children’s literature was at its worst before the revolutionary Potter jumped onto the shelves, owing to two enthusiastic decision-makers who didn’t follow the standard probabilistic thinking. This, however, was above the BS & BM, and so they continued working together with the data regarding the sales, unable to apply modern decision-making to the living and changing book market that resists stagnation and repetition... Now the industry has collapsed, I’m glad we’re not asked for another bailout to create the Writers’ Union here in the US… Though you never know, keeping in mind the recent scandal with the Endowment of Arts …
And what’s with your publishing house? How do you see its future? Do you prefer to publish your works in your own publishing house or will you try to find a publisher for your next novel?
Grace Andreacchi: Last year I founded Andromache Books as a little experiment – I was already publishing my own work free on-line, and I’d had several people approach me asking to read the longer works, the novels, in the old-fashioned printed book form. A bit of monkeying around with the technology led me to the conclusion that it was not rocket science, and voilà! pretty soon I had produced a handsome book for next to nothing. The publish-on-demand technology makes it very easy to produce a print book now and, providing you put the work into it and get it right, the quality is very high. Our books are beautiful. Having gone to all the trouble of learning how to do this I thought - why not see if there aren’t a few other talented authors like myself who would benefit from these new skills of mine? It wasn’t long before I had a little list of very talented people. Each one is very different from the others, the only thing they have in common is that they all write really well. They have to get past me, and I’m very hard to please. I don’t have time to waste producing mediocre books, I only produce very fine ones, and not many of those. I’ve no ambitions as a publisher, really, it’s just a bit of a lark. Just because the readers seem to like it, that paper book in your hands. I care about my readers, those intelligent and perspicacious people.
You ask me about plans for my own books and I can say this much – No, I’ve no plans to submit my novels to that humiliating and fruitless process of submission equals rejection, I’ve had enough of it. It’s time consuming, soul-destroying and, in my case, ultimately pointless. They don’t want me. OK, I get it. After years and years of this sort of thing I get the message. I could get really bitter and twisted about this, but I prefer just to move on. I’m so delighted with the way this whole new technology has opened up that allows me to move on, and I don’t think that’s an accident either. I believe in the power of art, in people’s fundamental need for art, their hunger as you put it, and consequently whenever a system becomes completely blocked so that no art is able to reach us, a new path is sure to open up. We create these pathways because we need them, we need what they give us, this food for the mind and spirit. Man does not live by bread alone.
Having said all that, if anybody out there’s interested, they know where to find me! I’d be delighted to have wider acknowledgement, to come to the attention of more readers, and that’s something the established publishers can still offer to a certain extent. I bear them no grudge, any time they want to love me they are welcome to do so. I do believe their power is waning though.
I agree with you about the burgeoning of small presses and magazines, I’m already part of a community of like-minded mavericks. The quality can be very patchy out there, I freely admit, but I don’t find it any worse on average than the very dubious offerings of the established publishers, just bad in a different way. Great writing will always be thin on the ground, wherever the ground may lie. And I’ll just mention a little bugbear of mine: I hate the way some of these small presses go to great lengths and moderate expense to disguise the fact they are using publish on demand. It’s as if there’s this stigma attached to it, and who is imposing this stigma? The same literary establishment we are aiming to circumvent! Why should we play by their rules? This Cerberus is moribund, his bark is far worse than his bite, and I for one am up front and in your face about what I do at Andromache Books. Yes, I publish my own novels, and what’s more I sell them at cost. Yes, I use lulu to publish them, and I’m very happy to do so. Anybody have a problem with that? [She grins fiercely.]
I think another problem is that you need sharp elbows to get ahead, you need a sense of your ‘career’ and these things I never had and never desired to have. I try to be a decent human being first, and a writer second. What a terrible sacrilege, yes? But it’s true. I don’t like that whole cult of the monstre sacré, I find it pretty sick actually. I’ve never ever thought of writing as a ‘career’ but always as a vocation, something I do because it’s what I’m good at, it’s my gift and I ought to use it as well and as beautifully as I can. Money doesn’t interest me, and I don’t see making money from your writing as any kind of validation. I have a very nice husband who makes more than enough money for the two of us, and if I didn’t I’d find some other way to feed myself. I’m not a big eater.
V.Ulea: I share every word you’ve just said about the ‘career’ and the writer’s ‘decency’ as a stubborn attempt to follow his mind and heart. When I was at the beginning of my writing ‘career’ in Ukraine – and I knew nothing about ‘career’ then, naively assuming that it was all about talent! – I was invited by the Secretary of the Writers’ Union in Odessa to talk about my future. He was a nice man, really, and he sincerely wanted me to succeed as a writer, but the problem was that our views of success were very different. He complimented me on my talent, said that I had a very interesting voice, but he didn’t like the ‘lack of the real world’ in my poems, and by the ‘real world’ he meant the Soviet regime, of course. He assured me that if I included a few poems which would be more adequate to the ‘contemporary mentality’ my first book would be published very soon, and in a year or two my second book would appear, which would give me a green light to the Writers’ Union. Any young poet would dream about such a turn of events. The Secretary himself offered me his patronage! I thanked him for his time, we shook hands, he scheduled an appointment with me in a month, and I left. Forever. I think my Dad, who, above all, was a writer and a journalist, had mixed feelings regarding my decision not to come back. On the one hand he was upset since it was the only opportunity for me to become a published poet, but I knew that deep in his heart he was proud of me. Years later I immigrated to the US and – surprise surprise! - I found a very similar situation in the mainstream media there: publishers pushed forward all that was ideological and ignored all that was art. It looked as if officials took arts into their own hands, overthrowing the “purposeless purposiveness” cultivated for centuries by the best poets, writers, artists and musicians. Feminism, political correctness, minority – you name it! – all those weeds of the ideological garden polluted the stages, screens and pages of the mainstream monopoly on the arts. And that fierce march of genre literature that ferociously replaced Crime and Punishment with mysteries, The Little Prince with fantasy, Romeo and Juliet with romance, Solaris with sci-fi! Where is literature? I wondered, leafing through bestsellers and trying to comprehend the mentality of these big publishers and famous critics praising in famous periodicals naked kings. This was surreal. I remember I shared my concerns with a friend of mine, Kirstin Breitenfellner – a well-known writer in Vienna who translated my Treatise About Angels into German – and she told me that it was similir in German speaking countries. I found consolation in rereading Balzac’s Lost Illusions… How modern, how real, how applicable… I wonder what your thoughts are about contemporary fiction.
Grace Andreacchi: I think fiction is a vital form, but only when used intelligently. When I was a kid I was deeply moved by the works of the great 19th century novelists, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, the Brontës, Dickens, these books had a profound impact on my nascent self. But what is the point of writing 19th century fiction in the 21st century? It was bad enough in the 20th century but to persist in this way is just inexcusable. You do not find it in any other serious art form, visual art, music, architecture – all these have created bold and fascinating new art, some successful some less so, but nobody is taken seriously who say, paints as if he were living in the 19th century. Yet this is exactly the situation with so-called literature. This so-called literature is stillborn, a pastiche, it has nothing to offer me as a resident of the 21st century.
There have been interesting writers in the 20th century, and there are a few working now, but very few of those wrote or are writing in English. You have to look beyond the English speaking world, especially to eastern Europe, and to more exotic outposts such as Turkey and South America to find good modern fiction. The experiments that were begun by such writers as Proust and Virginia Woolf have not been followed up – I won’t even bother to mention James Joyce or Samuel Beckett – have not led to any real changes in mainstream literary culture. These people are admired but not, I suspect, read very much. And books keep coming that are just the same old narrative thing. Petit bourgeois novels for a petit bourgeois audience.
V.Ulea: The mainstream has no intention to develop, only to grow. It doesn’t strive to be deep – only broad, and it’s not mind expanding, only vast. Uniqueness is not on its list. Profit is its general, and mainstream writers are its soldiers who obediently follow the same old orders. The poor readers’ pockets are the aim, and the reader’s mind is considered a redundancy when they go into the offensive. No wonder the mainstream loses the battle! It’s a loss of a clever combinational chess player who has never understood the positional game. For decades, the mainstream publishers celebrated their victory, but it turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory…
Anyway, to continue the analogy to the game of chess, how do you maintain, improve and develop your writer’s position?
Grace Andreacchi: Without taking myself too seriously, I hope, I do take writing seriously, I mean – we pass this way but once, and I wouldn’t want to waste my time doing something stupid. I work very slowly, more and more slowly as the years go by, a kind of refining process goes on whereby the material is continually reduced, throwing off the dross and leaving what is, I hope, the gold. It’s a strong mixture, admittedly. I think the big danger for any writer is repeating yourself. To a certain extent you are bound to repeat yourself because you are always trapped inside your own head, it’s the only head you’ve got and you can’t have a new one. But by working slowly and considerately I’ve found ways to outwit this head of mine to a certain extent, only to a certain extent because this ‘sameness’ of the head is also my personality, my unique voice or vision or whatever you want to call it – the trick is to find some deep and interesting new vein, a new key, a new palette… Not to write the same book again and again! I don’t want to do that. So, slow and steady does it. I took seven years over Poetry and Fear and it’s under a hundred pages. But they’re good pages, I like them. I am not ashamed to have written that book. I can look at myself in the mirror.
There’s a danger that, if you fix too much on writing as an end in itself you end up with no life and nothing to write about. I have a real aversion to novels about writers – ugh! ‘My life in the English Department’ – ugh! ‘My struggles as a writer’ – who wants to read that sort of self-indulgent solipsistic rubbish? Not I, at any rate. I’ve had an interesting life so far, and it continues to surprise me, this life of mine. My life is a big adventure, some of it beautiful and some of it terrible – I’ve always identified with little Dorothy in Oz. ‘Most of it was beautiful!’ Life should be like Oz, this great big scary beautiful adventure. Then you can write about it.
[i] The expression belongs to Nabokov’s character, Humbert Humbert.