1. Why Hawthorne? You’ve got strong inclination towards his work, if I recall correctly.
That’s very tactfully put. I guess you could call my almost incessant ranting that The Blithedale Romance is the “greatest novel ever written” evidence of a strong inclination toward Hawthorne’s work! Now, as to why I do it, well, that’s an awfully complicated question to answer! There’s nothing objective about art appreciation, and I’d be a damned liar if I didn’t admit that the Coverdale-Zenobia relationship resonates with me in very personal ways… But that’s not an answer, that’s a support group overture! So, let’s see if I can do better!
When it comes to narrative/fictional structures, what interests me, more than anything, is the fact that every single one of them can be described as “something that comes out of nothing”. They’re like individuals that way. In fact, identity-formation and storytelling are basically the same thing. Both are forms of lying. Necessary (I do not say “noble”) lies, but lies all the same! However, unlike almost any other skill you could name, narration/self-dramatization is not the kind of thing you ever really want to master… Perfect command of the culinary arts produces great meals–an airtight story, on the other hand, sinks back into the oblivion from whence it sprang. So! What I love is a novel/movie/song/painting/”self”/etc. that makes me feel its/her/his presence, precisely by drawing my attention to the absence at its core! We know that we can deconstruct any narrative. Deconstructon is theoretical jujitsu, using a text’s power against itself. The thing is though, that while this is a horribly barren and mechanical exercise when performed upon an unsuspecting bare-knucks thug of a text (say: “Irish girls do it better”…which I mention because I ran into three different people wrapped in that particular absurdity last night–and, by the way, see Aaron Haspel for more on t-shirt slogans), it feels more like a beautiful interpretive dance (oh, who am I kidding? it feels more like sex!) when the text is complicit in the act!
The Blithedale Romance makes us (me!) feel, simultaneously, the necessity and the horrific injustice of “turning affairs into ballads”, and that’s why I love it! I hope to do half as well someday!
2. What books do you find overrated?
Well, I took so long with that first question, that I’m gonna have to speed through the rest of these, unfortunately, ’cause I’ve got a presentation on Abolitionism to write… So, let’s see, overrated books? Let’s just list a few books that left me cold, for whatever reason: Gulliver’s Travels (the purer the satire, the less I will like it–this is a time-tested formula!-which doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate, or even love, “tactical satire”),
Daniel Deronda (which is odd, because I really love Middlemarch!), Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde just isn’t a novelist…which is not to say that he wasn’t witty), Orlando (again, I like some of Woolf’s other work a lot–particularly To The Lighthouse–but this book is truly sophomoric), Dracula (Okay, I know, Bram isn’t particularly well-repsected anyway, but, man, this is the worst novel I ever dedicated a weekend to!), and… anything by Faulkner.
3. What books do you find underrated?
Well, aside from Blithedale, there’s Dickens’ Christmas Carol, which I don’t think anyone treats as seriously as they should–it anticipates so many modernist narrative techniques; there’s Dashiell Hammett (I’m more and more interested in The Glass Key and The Thin Man lately, which are probably the least respected of his books…), Melville’s Pierre (which recently suffered the indignity of being republished with most of the insanity that makes it great excised, on the grounds that Herman made the changes while of particularly unsound mind!), Jean Toomer’s Cane (which isn’t discussed nearly enough, probably because it fits awkwardly into a “cultural studies” narrative–the text is way too unstable to serve–unproblematically–as an “African-American novel”), lots of others: Frederick Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom is probably the greatest autobiography ever written, and people skim it, or ignore it in favour of Douglass’ first flimsy go at self-dramatization, The Narrative of the Life of…; Little Women is much more interesting than is commonly supposed; I love Steven Vincent Benet’s tales (both fantastic and modern) and no one cares about them any more!; I’m totally on the Dawn Powell bandwagon, and I highly recommend every one of her books, especially Dance Night; I also love Frank O’Hara’s poetry (he’s well-respected in academic circles, but not exactly a household name) and Edna St. Vincent Millay (who kind of is a household name, but whose critical rep has suffered in the past fifty years)…
4. What would be your absolute dream job?
That’s easy. Writing novels and getting paid for it.
5. How do you feel about reading works in translation?
I hate it! But there’s no choice is there?
Good Night Friends!