March 19th, 2011 / 4:03 am

Interview Roundup, Eleventh and Final Part: Davis, Gimenez-Smith, Dixon, Irving, Borges

“When you’re not wearing your glasses, all you can see is what is close to you. You can’t see the context. You can’t see the rest of the room or across the street. I also didn’t wear my glasses some of the time out of vanity. I have thought about this because I notice it all the time—that in reading students’ work or discussing other peoples’ work, I don’t have much trouble focusing on detail, word to word, sentence to sentence, but I have to make a major effort to step back from a piece of writing and summarize what its themes are. As a child I resisted knowing much about the outside world—politics, international situations. In college I had only a very vague sense of facts, of distances. I remember being asked in some psychological test how far it is from New York to London, and even though I’d been to Europe at least twice already, I said about 15,000 miles. I was terrible at current events in school. I did well on one assignment which was to take a newspaper article and point out where the reporter was showing bias. Again, that was a close textual analysis.” – Lydia Davis in BOMB

“I am enthralled by syntax, by the sinews of the sentence. Often my absorption in the line leads to language becoming pure sound for me, something like murmur, but of course the printed word itself and at least the shadow of its meaning always remain. I love Wittgenstein’s take on this stuff, the way he seems so utterly perplexed by it, which I think is the correct attitude to take when it comes to thinking about the relationship between the look of the word on the page and the sound of the word in your head or your ear. There’s a line somewhere in the Investigations: “Remember that the look of a word is familiar to us in the same kind of way as its sound.” I suppose “Tree Tree Tree” speaks to this look–sound problematic in some way.
My first language was Spanish. Writing in a language other than that with which I grew up, with which I learned to think and feel, has surely had some bearing on my relationship to writing. I love finding words and sounds from other languages buried in English; I prefer to imagine discrete languages as continuous, like adjoining rooms connected by a common door — sound. When I revise a poem, I’m thinking primarily about sound, syllables as phonemic puzzle pieces. I wrote “Tree Tree Tree” in graduate school; I think it was exhibitive of my coming to this awareness of new sonic possibilities in my writing.” – Carmen Gimenez-Smith in La Bloga

“I write about sex the way it is. I try not to be salacious. I, in fact, go out of my way not to be. I feel the best way to handle sex is naturally. I don’t write to get anyone excited by my depictions of sex. But I don’t want to write something other than the way it happened. Lots of times I just say the couple did it. Other times, because of what’s happening in the sex act that reveals plot and character, it’s necessary to go in to greater detail. Sex has usually been an important part of most of the characters in my fiction, but just one part.” – Stephen Dixon in Bookslut

“When people ask me what my novels are “about”, the word “about” gives me the chills. I believe that, in any novel of mine, the principal objective is the construction of the whole. The excitement for me is the architect’s excitement. That little road map I make, making my way backwards to where I think the story should begin, that little sketch, the skeleton of the novel, the scaffolding of the building I’ve not yet made, is nothing but an outline of the action of the story. There are no details. The details emerge as the sentences do. I sometimes think that what I do as a writer is make a kind of colouring book, where all the lines are there and then you put in the colour. I never start writing the novel, consecutively telling the story, until I’ve gone from that last sentence to the first. I now have those two poles and I know all the action. From the moment I start writing, I don’t have to think about what’s going to happen, and maybe this is why Thomas Hardy is almost as important to me as Dickens. I like the writing in Dickens far better than I like the writing in Hardy, especially the dialogue. For someone like me, who knows the fate of all his characters, how wonderful it is that Hardy believed, as he surely did, in the predetermination of all his characters.” – John Irving in New Statesman

“Ah, Middlemarch! Yes, of course! You mean the whole universe is linked together; everything linked. Well that’s one of the reasons the Stoic philosophers had for believing in omens. There’s a paper, a very interesting paper, as all of his are, by De Quincey on modern superstition, and there he gives the Stoic theory. The idea is that since the whole universe is one living thing, then there is a kinship between things that seem far off. For example, if thirteen people dine together, one of them is bound to die within the year. Not merely because of Jesus Christ and the Last Supper, but also because all things are bound together. He said—I wonder how that sentence runs—that everything in the world is a secret glass or secret mirror of the universe.” – Jorge Luis Borges in the Paris Review


  1. Anonymous

  2. deadgod

      It may be easier to be brave in a heroic situation than patient in a boring, mundane situation.

      –Lydia Davis

      “Heroism” is acting at great inexpedience on a communally-held priority.

      Lester Ballard is ‘an American hero’.

  3. Anonymous
  4. Anonymous

  5. kl

      Hi! Carmen has two last names, no hyphen. Think Hilary Rodham Clinton before she ran for President.

  6. kl

      Hi! Carmen has two last names, no hyphen. Think Hilary Rodham Clinton before she ran for President.

  7. Jtchandl

      Great quote from the Borges interview:

      I remember what Bernard Shaw said, that as to style, a writer has as much style as his conviction will give him and not more. Shaw thought that the idea of a game of style was quite nonsensical, quite meaningless. He thought of Bunyan, for example, as a great writer because he was convinced of what he was saying. If a writer disbelieves what he is writing, then he can hardly expect his readers to believe it. In this country, though, there is a tendency to regard any kind of writing—especially the writing of poetry—as a game of style. I have known many poets here who have written well—very fine stuff—with delicate moods and so on—but if you talk with them, the only thing they tell you is smutty stories or they speak of politics in the way that everybody does, so that really their writing turns out to be kind of sideshow. They had learned writing in the way that a man might learn to play chess or to play bridge. They were not really poets or writers at all. It was a trick they had learned, and they had learned it thoroughly. They had the whole thing at their finger ends. But most of them—except four or five, I should say—seemed to think of life as having nothing poetic or mysterious about it. They take things for granted. They know that when they have to write, then, well, they have to suddenly become rather sad or ironic.