Thursday, November 03, 2005

you deserve to read nothing but Trollope

Robert Birnbaum interviews Jonathan Lethem over at The Morning News.

Any innovation is a sort of howling red flag. Though I doubt red flags howl—a three-word mixed metaphor. It’s in the nature of the innovations to demand disproportionate attention and description, when often they comprise 10 or 15 percent of what I’ve tried to do. In fact, I think I’ve demonstrated an unwavering, and quite extensive commitment to character, narrative, and emotion, beginnings, middles, ends, the sturdiest of traditional methods—I’m hardly on some avant-garde frontier. There’s simply one thing I do, and it’s not out of—as you proposed in your question—any restless urge to be original or provocative. Instead, it’s a helpless instinct, one I’ve been expressing from the very beginning in my work, and I suppose I’ll never quit: That is, to push together realistic character and emotion, and naturalistic or mimetic textures, with the stuff of dream, fantasy, symbol—and to make the fit between these different areas very prominent. Aggressively prominent...

American writing, its roots in Poe, Twain, Melville, and extended through Faulkner and, for gawd’s sake, everyone else—is encompassing, courageous, omnivorous. It gobbles contradiction, keeps its eyes open, engages with the culture at every possible level. But boundaries being crossed make the inhabitants of the increasingly isolated castle of the status quo all the more anxious. If we’re free to use these methods, allowed to talk about everything we know, if we are allowed to describe the world of advertising, the world of capitalism, the world of pop culture, the actual world where the elements described as of high- and low-brow are in a constant inextricable mingling—if we let down our guard, where will our status emblems be? What credentials will we burnish? How will we know we are different from the rabble outside the gates? Again, it’s sheerly class anxiety that is expressed in these attacks. And, as well, a fundamental discomfort with the creative act, with the innately polymorphous, the innately acquisitive, curious, exuberant and engaged tendencies in the creative act itself.