Thursday, March 14, 2013

Marilynne Robinson on reading and writing

Interesting brief interview with Marilynne Robinson on the New York Times website.

Does she re-read, she is asked: "I tend to think of the reading of any book as preparation for the next reading of it", she says. I have to say that's such a Calvinist outlook and although I try to fight against the Calvinist instinct within me, damn it but I can't help but associate with it.

If you could meet any character from literature, she is asked, who would it be? Her response is "Ishmael". That seems a very odd choice, I have to say. Ishmael is one of the oddest narrators in literary history: he literally expunges himself from the text for long passages, as though he weren't there. Cormac McCarthy does much the same thing with the kid in Blood Meridian. Over long passages of the novel, particularly the very gory ones, the kid simply disappears from the text. McCarthy is doing this deliberately, and so does Melville when he elides Ishmael from the action. In both instances, the authors are seeking to distance the characters from the unseemly, at times inhuman acts unfolding in the narrative. These characters, then, are witnesses to events but not necessarily complicit in them. This has always seemed something of a cop-out to me, and it seems vaguely unCalvinist of Robinson to elevate Ishmael in this way.

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