Wednesday, April 1, 1998

Q&A Hugh Kenner: The Grand Tour


Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review
(Date Approximate)

Hugh Kenner is best known for his classic studies of literary modernism, such as "The Pound Era" (1971), and "The Mechanic Muse" (1987), but he has also authored books on technology and media, including "Bucky; A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller" (1973) ,and "Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings" (1994), well before it was fashionable for literary critics to tackle such subjects. His new book, "The Elsewhere Community," is a quasi-autobiographical account of the role of travel -- physical, intellectual, and virtual -- in art.

   A day's work on two sentences? "Yes," Joyce responded, "I had the words. What I was working at was the order of the fifteen words in the sentences. There is an order in every way exact. I think I have found it."
   And with Joyce counting words, compare the story of the great "Bugs Bunny" animator, Chuck Jones, sending the Coyote repeatedly over the cliff as yet one more scheme for trapping the Roadrunner goes awry. Before he hits the bottom, Jones determined, eighteen frames should elapse. More or fewer would be less effective, and Jones claimed that an error of two framed more or less was quite detectable. We're talking about a margin for error of a twelfth of a second. Word-count, frame-count, that is a mode of consciousness peculiar to our century.
   "The Elsewhere Community" (1998)

HB: You are thought of primarily, as a literary critic, a student of modernism, are you not?

HK: Yes, a student of modernism, particularly Irish and American.