One of the things I was doing in Girl With Curious Hair was to write a very traditionally moral book. This is a generation that has an inheritance of absolutely nothing as far as meaningful moral values, and its our job to make them up, and we're not doing it.
Every two or three generations the world gets vastly different, and the context in which you have to learn how to be a human being, or to have good relationships, or decide whether or not there is a God, or decide whether there's such a thing as love, and whether it's redemptive, become vastly different.
"Serious" art, which is not primarily about getting money out of you, is more apt to make you uncomfortable, or to force you to work hard to access its pleasures, the same way that in real life true pleasure is usually a by-product of hard work and discomfort.
If what's always distinguished bad writing flat characters, a narrative world that's clichéd and not recognizably human, etc. is also a description of today's world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then [Bret Easton] Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we'd probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and glow despite the times' darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this dark world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.
Fiction's about what it is to be a fucking human being.
We already all know U.S. culture is materialistic. This diagnosis can be done in about two lines. It doesn't engage anybody. What's engaging and artistically real is, taking it as axiomatic that the present is grotesquely materialistc, how is it that we as human beings still have the capacity for joy, charity, genuine connections, for stuff that doesn't have a price?
You could justify the worst piece of experimental horseshit by saying, "The fools may hate my stuff, but generations later I will be appreciated for my groundbreaking rebellion." All the beret-wearing "artistes" I went to school with who believed that line are now writing ad copy someplace.
Cleveritis you know, the dreaded grad-school syndrome of like "Watch me use seventeen different points of view in this scene of a guy eating a Saltine." The real point of that shit is "Like me because I'm clever."
Once the first-person pronoun creeps into your agenda you're dead, art-wise. That's why fiction-writing's lonely in a way most people misunderstand. It's yourself you have to be estranged from, really, to work.
But the truth is it's hard for me to know what I really think about any of the stuff I've written. It's always tempting to sit back and make finger-steeples and invent impressive sounding theoretical justifications for what one does, but in my case most of it'd be horseshit. As time passes I get less and less nuts about anything I've published, and it gets harder to know for sure when its antagonistic elements are in there because they serve a useful purpose and when they're just covert manifestations of this "look-at-me-please-love-me-I-hate-you" syndrome I still sometimes catch myself falling into.
I was talking about minimalists, not Carver. Carver was an artist, not a minimalist. The founder of a movement is never part of the movement. His case is like Joyce, or Nabokov, or early Barth and Coover he's using formal innovation in the service of an original vision. Carver invented or resurrected, if you want to cite Hemingway the techniques of minimalism in the service of rendering a world he saw that nobody'd seen before. It's a grim world, exhausted and empty and full of mute, beaten people, but the minimalist techniques Carver employed were perfect for it; they created it. And minimalism for Carver wasn't some rigid aesthetic program he adhered to for its own sake. Carver's commitment was to his stories, each of them. And when minimalism didn't serve them, he blew it off.
What's especially dangerous about Carver's techniques is that they seem so easy to imitate. It doesn't seem like each word and line and draft has been bled over. That's a part of his genius.
What's been passed down from the postmodern heyday is sarcasm, cynicism, a manic ennui, suspicion of all authority, suspicion of all constraints on conduct, and a terrible penchant for ironic diagnosis of unpleasantness instead of an ambition not just to diagnose and ridicule but to redeem.
This thing doesn't have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent like Leyner's or serious talent like Daitch's. Talent's just an instrument. It's like having a pen that works instead of one that doesn't.
For me, the last few years of the postmodern era have seemed a bit like the way you feel when you're in high school and your parents go on a trip, and you throw a party. You get all your friends over and throw this wild disgusting fabulous party. For a while it's great, free and freeing, parental authority gone and overthrown, a cat's-away-let's-play Dionysian revel. But then time passes and the party gets louder and louder, and you run out of drugs, and nobody's got any money for more drugs, and things get broken and spilled, and there's a cigarette burn on the couch, and you're the host and it's your house too, and you gradually start wishing your parents would come back and restore some fucking order in your house. It's not a perfect analogy, but the sense I get of my generation of writers and intellectuals or whatever is that it's 3AM and the couch has several burn-holes and somebody's thrown up in the umbrella stand and we're wishing the revel would end. The postmodern founders' patricidal work was great, but patricide produces orphans, and no amount of revelry can make up for the fact that writers my age have been literary orphans throughout our formative years. We're kind of wishing some parents would come back. And of course we're uneasy about the fact that we wish they'd come back I mean, what's wrong with us? Are we total pussies? Is there something about authority and limits we actually need? And then the uneasiest feeling of all, as we start gradually to realize that parents in fact aren't ever coming back which means we're going to have to be the parents.
[Infinite Jest] is a weird book. It doesn't move the way normal books do. It's got a whole bunch of characters. I think it makes at least an in-good-faith attempt to be fun and riveting enough on a page-by-page level so I don't feel like I'm hitting the reader with a mallet, you know, "Hey, here's this really hard impossibly smart thing. Fuck you. See if you can read it." I know books like that and they piss me off.
A tattoo-based relationship probably has fundamental problems.
The cliché that getting a lot of attention is not the same as getting a lot of affection takes on new dimensions when you learn it through experience.
'How did you write such a long book?' 'I used a really long pen, next question.'
I think it's easy to stop smoking; it's just hard not to commit a felony after you stop.
The Harper's PR person came to Boston, and I came and I gave a reading, and nobody showed up. There was a snowstorm, but the basic point is, nobody showed up. So me and the PR guy went out and ate, like, three pieces of cake each and apologized to each other for three hours.
I'm interested in religion, only because certain churches seem to be a place where things can be talked about. What does your life mean? Do you believe in something bigger than you? Is there something about gratifying every single desire you have that is harmful?