torsdag den 16. februar 2017

Romanmodstand og spøgelseslicens

- fra samtale mellem Zadie Smith og George Saunders i det nye nummer af Interview:

"SAUNDERS: From the beginning, I actually had it in mind not to write a novel. I'd kind of gotten past that point where I felt bad for never having written a novel, even to where I felt really good about it, like I was a real purist. And then this material was around and I approached it, but almost warning it, like, "Do not try to bloat up on me because we're not doing that; we're not writing a novel. We're not going to suspend all the usual rules of composition that I have accrued over the years just to get past the 130-page mark."  There were several points where I would kind of turn to the book and say, "Get thee behind me." I don't think real novelists do that. But I make a distinction between prose that's very efficiency-minded (like, the minimum I can get away with), versus loosening the screws and letting the words spill out beautifully and so on. I don't really write beautifully naturally, unlike some people in this conversation. I don't feel like I have the intelligence to really inhabit a consistently high level of prose. I have to really squeeze it to make it into something. It blew my mind, reading Swing Time (Smiths seneste roman LB)  that I could take any sentence in the book, and it was one of the most beautiful sentences written in English, and you grafted all those sentences into this incredible, multi-continent, epic. Such a vast and expansive book. It made me a feel a little bit like when I used to read David [Foster] Wallace. Like, "I can't play that game. I wish I could, but I can't do it."

SMITH: The young people have a phrase for this now, which is "slay in your lane." [both laugh] That's a very important principle of writing. You have to work out what it is you can't do, obscure it, and focus on what works.

SAUNDERS: Yeah, that was the first 40 years of my life. But what was fun for me with this book was to start out with the principle that went, "We're going to fight every day to make this not a novel; make it too short to be a novel." And then with that principle in place, the book sort of starts to say, "Okay, but I really need this. I really need some historical nuggets." And you're like, "All right, but keep it under control." Or the book says, "I really need this sci-fi device of a ghost inhabiting another person." You say okay kind of begrudgingly. So the structure seemed informed by need and efficiency. There's not a lot of whimsicality in the form, not a lot of indulgence allowed. Like when I was younger, I would sometimes go, "Oh, every other section will be narrated by a chair." [Smith laughs] Or, "It will be a double helix shape!" That never really worked. I guess what I'm trying to say is that whatever weirdness was going to be in there, I felt, had to be earned. And it had to be required by the emotional needs of the book.

SMITH: What interests me in it is a slight perverse balance between the sublime and the grotesque. Like you could have landed only on the sublime. But my argument is that the sublime couldn't exist without this other half. For example, you have these grotesque, hilarious, profane ghosts in the book. Even the concept of talking ghosts is, from an aesthetic point of view, grotesque. It's not in good taste to have talking ghosts in a grown-up novel. [Saunders laughs] But you seem compelled by that risk in order to get to the other end of the equation.

SAUNDERS: I think it's also a kind of a psychological thing. As a kid, I had a real fascination with perverse, off-color, and kind of risky things, and I also had a very sanctimonious Catholic, purist side. For me, things were either very sullied or very pure, very controlled or very under-controlled. One of the big breakthrough moments was to realize that you aren't going to be able to excise one of those. But you are going to be able to use them against one another or in support of one another—almost like two people on a motorcycle. One tendency has to aid and abet the other, in a certain way. So if I find myself being too earnest and sentimental and hyperbolic and simplistic, which is definitely a tendency I have, then I bring in this perverse henchman.

SMITH: There's something very Catholic about that.

SAUNDERS: Right. And in my personal and spiritual life, I reject that. I don't believe in that. I'm always trying to get my mind into a less judgmental place, making less rigid judgments about things like "perverse" versus "pure." But in terms of prose, those sorts of oppositions seem to work. This book scared the shit out of me for many years because it seemed to me not all that open to the perverse or funny or naughty. And I knew if I evoked that stuff too easily or gratuitously, as a way of assuaging my fears of not being edgy or whatever, the writing would fall apart. This book was going to have to have some earnestness in it. "

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