March 13th, 2011 / 5:50 am

Interview Roundup Part Six: Kundera, Egan, Dawson, Endo, Simmons

“Musil and Broch saddled the novel with enormous responsibilities. They saw it as the supreme intellectual synthesis, the last place where man could still question the world as a whole. They were convinced that the novel had tremendous synthetic power, that it could be poetry, fantasy, philosophy, aphorism, and essay all rolled into one. In his letters, Broch makes some profound observations on this issue. However, it seems to me that he obscures his own intentions by using the ill-chosen term “polyhistorical novel.” It was in fact Broch’s compatriot, Adalbert Stifter, a classic of Austrian prose, who created a truly polyhistorical novel in his Der Nachsommer [Indian Summer], published in 1857. The novel is famous: Nietzsche considered it to be one of the four greatest works of German literature. Today, it is unreadable. It’s packed with information about geology, botany, zoology, the crafts, painting, and architecture; but this gigantic, uplifting encyclopedia virtually leaves out man himself, and his situation. Precisely because it is polyhistorical, Der Nachsommer totally lacks what makes the novel special. This is not the case with Broch. On the contrary! He strove to discover “that which the novel alone can discover.” The specific object of what Broch liked to call “novelistic knowledge” is existence. In my view, the word “polyhistorical” must be defined as “that which brings together every device and every form of knowledge in order to shed light on existence.” Yes, I do feel close to such an approach.” – Milan Kundera in the Paris Review

“On the other hand, I think Great Books should be taught and read—but there are certain subjects that are difficult to embrace at a young age, and certainly the impact of time is going to fall pretty flat. So this book,Goon Squad, is very much a response to the rereading of Proust, honestly. I thought, “How would you write about time now?” And technology plays a big part in In Search of Lost Time, which is really not much talked about. There is one part: He [Proust] looks up in the air and an airplane goes by and it is so shocking because it feels like such a 19th-century novel. It’s really not.” – Jennifer Egan, in the Morning News

“I had that same relationship with Plath, actually. I think I was too caught up in her biography to give her poetry the attention and work it deserves. Also, my biggest love right now, the British Renaissance, was not a love of mine in undergrad. Not at all. It came later in graduate school. But now I can’t get enough of “Paradise Lost,” for example. No lie. It’s amazing. Frightening, really sexy, and incredibly dense yet completely readable like a novel.” – Erica Dawson, in The Black Telephone

“Dialogue is a process and we are at the beginning. Looking back in history we now see that Christianity has been in dialogue since its inception. Jesus was a Jew. He spoke like a Jew, thought like a Jew and acted like a Jew. Christianity was at first seen as a Jewish sect. The person who brought it into the Greek world and initiated the first great dialogue was St. Paul. Then in the 13th century, when Aristotle was introduced into Europe, Aquinas initiated a dialogue that resulted in a Thomism that dominated Catholic theology until the Second Vatican Council. Now, even as we speak, Christianity is in the process of extracting itself from one culture and becoming incarnate in another. The new culture is deeply influenced by Asian religions and the work of dialogue is only the beginning. ” – Shusaku Endo in America

“When I write a story, I type a sentence and read it out loud. And then I change it, and read it out loud again. And then I write the next sentence, and I read it out loud, and I read the previous sentence out loud, and I change that. And this goes on for a while. The repetitions tend to come out of a desire for a musicality to the writing, which follows from the fact that I am reading it out loud as I am writing it.” – Matthew Simmons, in Dark Sky


  1. Michael

      Mr. Endo should read Mr. Emerson. The dialogue’s been going on for a while.

  2. Rory

      (pretty sure Endo is talking about Japanese Christianity, not American Easternism.)