Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Trying, and Failing, to Ignore the Passing of Time

I was already sold on the idea of eventually buying the second volume of collected Paris Review interviews, but when I saw that Philip Larkin was included, it became an immediate need. Larkin's poetry, among other notable distinctions, gave this blog its name. He was a lifelong librarian who lived in Hull, a geographically isolated town in the UK. He rarely gave interviews, and assented to the Paris Review's request on the condition that the interview be conducted through the mail. This process occurred in 1982. Larkin would die three years later, at 63, of cancer.

As Robert Phillips wrote in his introduction to the interview:
(Larkin) took nearly five months to answer the initial set of questions sent to him at his home in Hull, England, stating, 'It has taken rather a long time because, to my surprise, I found writing it suffocatingly boring.'
It's not boring to read, as you might imagine, even though in it, Larkin details himself as a proud creature of dull habit...
What is your daily routine?

My life is as simple as I can make it. Work all day, cook, eat, wash up, telephone, hack writing, drink, television in the evenings. I almost never go out. I suppose everyone tries to ignore the passing of time -- some people by doing a lot, being in California one year and Japan the next. Or there's my way -- making every day and every year exactly the same. Probably neither works.
...and a staunchly conservative critic...
Your introduction to All What Jazz takes a stance against experiment, citing the trio of Picasso, Pound, and Parker. Why do you distrust the new?

It seems to me undeniable that up to this century literature used language in the way we all use it, painting represented what anyone with normal vision sees, and music was an affair of nice noises rather than nasty ones. The innovation of modernism in the arts consisted of doing the opposite. I don't know why; I’m not a historian. You have to distinguish between things that seemed odd when they were new but are now quite familiar, such as Ibsen and Wagner, and things that seemed crazy when they were new and seem crazy now, like Finnegans Wake and Picasso.
...and, most hilariously, a proud provincial:
You haven't been to America, have you?

Oh no, I've never been to America, nor to anywhere else, for that matter. Does that sound very snubbing? It isn't meant to. I suppose I'm pretty unadventurous by nature...

And of course I'm so deaf now that I shouldn't dare. Someone would say, What about Ashbery? And I'd say, I'd prefer strawberry -- that kind of thing. I suppose everyone has his own dream of America. A writer once said to me, If you ever go to America, go either to the East Coast or the West Coast; the rest is a desert full of bigots. That's what I think I'd like: where if you help a girl trim the Christmas tree you're engaged; and her brothers start oiling their shotguns if you don't call on the minister. A version of pastoral.
Well, I'm a creature of habit, a fairly conservative critic, and quite provincial myself, so I have at least those things in common with Larkin!

I'd highly recommend these Paris Review books as an addition to anyone's library. Last year, I wrote about the first volume's interview with Dorothy Parker.


Anonymous JPW said...

Yes, the Paris Review collections DO seem like a lovely addition to a library.... my birthday is coming up, dear bro, and I'm ordering those new bookshelves, as discussed.... ;-)

12:19 AM  

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