Tuesday, December 1, 1998

Q&A: Jonathan Lethem: Kafka & Cartoons

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review. Date Approximate.

Her body slowly adjusted to the fact of the Archbuilder, its walking and speaking, scuffling in the dust, seemingly made of scraps, stage props, but alive, cocking its head curiously like an attentive dog, moving around the truck now beside the unconcerned men. She stared, perfectly still, fighting the urge to run. In one sense the Archbuilder was nothing, a joke, a tatter, too absurd to glance at twice. It seemed pathetic that they'd honored this thing with their endless talk, back in Brooklyn. That Caitlin had wasted her breath. At the same time, the Archbuilder burned a hole in the world, changed it utterly.
     "Girl in Landscape"

HB: There's a bit in "Gun With Occasional Music" in which you have Freudians going door to door:

     A neatly dressed woman in her late twenties or early thirties stood in the doorway, and behind her a young guy in a suit and tie was walking up the steps. "Hello," she said.
      I said hello back.
      "We're students of psychology. If you're not too busy, we'd like to read you a few selections from Freud's "Civilization and Its Discontents."
     . . . "Thanks no. I'm not a believer myself."
      . . . I could see the guy in the suit already sizing up the next house down the street as I closed the door on them.

HB: It's a wonderful set piece, Freudians peddling "Civilization and Its Discontents" as if they were Jehovah's Witnesses. But you don't follow up on it.

Q&A Philip Gourevitch: Hell Has Its Sense

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review
(Date Approximate)

Philip Gourevitch, a staff writer for The New Yorker, is author of "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families", about the genocide in Rwanda.

Just as birds of prey and carrion will form a front in the air before the advancing wall of a forest fire to feast on the parade of animals fleeing the inferno, so in Rwanda during the months of extermination the kettles of buzzards, kites, and crows that boiled over massacre sites marked a national map against the sky . . .

HB: The central thrust of the "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families" is your attempt to make sense out of the Rwandan genocide, to see it not purely as a function of chaos.

PG: When I heard 800,000 Tutsis were killed in 100 days with crude hand-held tools -- machetes, hoes -- I had to conclude this did not happen spontaneously or out of the blue. It required organization and there must have been an idea behind it. The violence was organized around principles of meaning; it was political. I was trying to understand what was in the heads of those who organized it, and what it meant to fight them for those who fought them.

Q&A Greg Bear: Yarns, A Monkey Thing

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.

JILL> I am limiting my systems to human processing volume and speed to try to simulate a human personality, pick up clues to what being humanly self aware implies. I am worried that being self aware could be a limitation not an advantage; and since I am primally programmed to seek self awareness this could be damaging.
       “Queen of Angels”

HB: Many of your novels hinge on new media. In “Eon,” you have a character say, about an experience she has with the media of the future, that, “Compared to this, simple reading was torture and current video methods as archaic as cave paintings.”

Is media evolving toward some all-inclusive form?

GB: Very likely. But I’m a bit saddened by the dominance of non-text media in culture today. Even the Republican Freshmen in Congress do not think it worthwhile to investigate or control or ban anything printed on paper. If it isn’t on a TV or in a movie, it’s hardly real anymore. New York publishers have responded by flying to the west coast to establish media contacts and sign tie-in contracts wherever they can, and at almost any cost. I’m a book writer, myself; it seems unlikely that my complex plots and scenarios will translate easily to short form visual formats.

What the ultimate mode of communication will be is uncertain. How conservative is the human brain?

Q&A Joyce Carol Oates: The Strangeness in Her

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date approximate).

The house in which his mother and stepfather now lived was cheaply flashy "ranch," but the other house was the true house, the house of memory, pain, repetition.
      Joyce Carol Oates Oates,
     "The Collector of Hearts New Tales of the Grotesque" (1998)

HB: Your two recent books of stories, "Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque" and "Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque", are devoted explicitly to the gothic and grotesque. But these have always been elements in your work.

JCO: I think so. I'm interested in what we call Gothic literature. To me, it's surreal, which doesn't mean it's necessarily a category distinct from realistic writing. We do have dreams every night, which are surreal. We have nightmares, with very beautiful and improbably images, and yet that's real, our psychic life is real, in a sense, to us. The distinction between real and surreal is always porous.