Friday, November 07, 2008

P.R., Vol. 3

The third volume of the Paris Review interviews is just out, and I recommend it as strongly as I’ve recommended the first two. (First one here, second one here.)

I’ve barely even dipped into it, and I’ve already come across several things I like, including:

An interviewer asks Harold Pinter whether a character in one of his plays represents him, and Pinter says, “I had -- I have -- nothing to say about myself, directly. I wouldn’t know where to begin. Particularly since I often look at myself in the mirror and say, Who the hell’s that?”

John Cheever on southern California: “I’m very much concerned with trees . . . with the nativity of trees, and when you find yourself in a place where all the trees are transplanted and have no history, I find it disconcerting.”

The interview with Evelyn Waugh was conducted, in part, while Waugh reclined in bed, wearing white pajamas and smoking a cigar. He found Faulkner “intolerably bad.” And then there’s this:
PR: Would you say, then, that Charles Ryder was the character about whom you gave the most information?

Waugh: No, Guy Crouchback. (A little restlessly) But look, I think that your questions are dealing too much with the creation of character and not enough with the technique of writing. I regard writing not as an investigation of character, but as an exercise in the use of language, and with this I am obsessed. I have no technical psychological interest. It is drama, speech, and events that interest me.

PR: Does this mean that you continually refine and experiment?

Waugh: Experiment? God forbid! Look at the results of experiment in the case of a writer like Joyce. He started off writing very well, then you can watch him going mad with vanity. He ends up a lunatic.

PR: I gather from what you said earlier that you don’t find the act of writing difficult.

Waugh: I don’t find it easy. You see, there are always words going round in my head: some people think in pictures, some in ideas. I think entirely in words. By the time I come to stick my pen in my inkpot these words have reached a stage of order which is fairly presentable.
And finally, the ever reliable Norman Mailer:
PR: It was suggested to me that a certain senior American novelist went to see another senior American novelist at the twilight of the latter’s life and said to him, Enough now, no more writing.

Mailer: He said to him don’t write anymore?

PR: Yes. It’s one of those stories you hear in New York. If it happened, one might think of it as an act of love. One great and elegant swordsman disarming another.

Mailer: No, I can’t believe it. I’ll tell you if anyone ever came to me with that, I’d say, kidding is kidding, but get your ass off my pillow.

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