Thursday, April 22, 2010

Regarding Interviews

The reclusive writer is as much a stereotype as the hack and the tortured genius, but like all stereotypes it is founded in fact. It's a notion that is generation after generation confirmed and reconfirmed by those literary luminaries who shy from public attention. While everyone will point to Salinger, only a handful mention the likes of Harper Lee (How many people are even aware she's still alive?), Thomas Pynchon and Cormac McCarthy.

The opinions of writers beyond those in their works have always fascinated me. Today, seized by some unknown impetus, I searched for James Baldwin on youtube. To my surprise and delight the writer conducted a number of recorded interviews in his lifetime. One of which included a contemporary, unmythologized opinion of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King before either was assassinated. The only work of Baldwin's I've read does not concern the African-American condition, though I don't doubt his other work addresses it, but even so there is an unparalleled value to these interviews that writers should not and cannot shy away from.

The popular notion is that a writer is a socital commentator through their work, and that pieces of writing are independent, ideally not requiring greater context or elaboration. I believe this to be absolutely true: A piece of writing is wholly independent but a writers responsibility to the world is greater than simply submitting to the vacuum. Writing should not need a greater context or elaboration but should be supplied corroboration.

A work of literature does not need to be explained, or commented upon. This is unnecessary. However, to simply write and submit is a snub to humanity. As a thinker and a commentator you cannot hide from the world: You help to define an age. Your artistic, social, and political views are imperative. Your novel, your play, your poem is a universal thought that makes your beliefs known but can hide your humanity by presenting you only as a mind, and will often given the appearance of disconnection from the very age you live in the general (though certainly not universal) refusal to comment on specific contemporary people, places or events.

Further, print interviews, while valid, and helpful, are pale comparisons. They expand on a writers existence but do not provide a complete picture of temperament and cognisance. Watch the aforementioned interviews with Baldwin: How he collects his thoughts, pauses, and responds in complete. A view of the man, and his writing is expanded upon exponentially without the subject of his writing ever being approached. The identity of the writer as it exists only in their work is complete but abstract; misinterpretation, always a valid threat, can be exacerbated.

In becoming a writer, you become a commentator, and that cannot be done only at your desk. There is far too much to say, too much of the present too pedantic to address in such a way, for you to simply content yourself.

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