from the Paris Review interview with Michel Houllebecq
You have a bit of a scientific background. After high school, you studied agronomy. What is agronomy?
It’s everything having to do with the production of food. The one little project I did was a vegetation map of Corsica whose purpose was to find places where you could put sheep. I had read in the school brochure that studying agronomy can lead to all sorts of careers, but it turns out that was ridiculous. Most people still end up in some form of agriculture, with a few amusing exceptions. Two of my classmates became priests, for example.
Did you enjoy your studies?
Very much. In fact, I almost became a researcher. It’s one of the most autobiographical things in The Elementary Particles. My job would have been to find mathematical models that could be applied to the fish populations in Lake Nantua in the Rhône-Alpes region. But strangely, I turned it down, which was stupid, actually, because finding work afterward was impossible.
In the end you went to work as a computer programmer. Did you have previous experience?
I knew nothing about it. But this was back when there was a huge need for programming and no schools to speak of. So it was easy to get into. But I loathed it immediately.
So what made you write your first novel, Whatever, about a computer programmer and his sexually frustrated friend?
I hadn’t seen any novel make the statement that entering the workforce was like entering the grave. That from then on, nothing happens and you have to pretend to be interested in your work. And, furthermore, that some people have a sex life and others don’t just because some are more attractive than others. I wanted to acknowledge that if people don’t have a sex life, it’s not for some moral reason, it’s just because they’re ugly. Once you’ve said it, it sounds obvious, but I wanted to say it.
Talking about his novel The Possibility of An Island:
Why did you make your main character a comedian?
The character came from two things. First of all, I went to a resort in Turkey and there was one of those talent shows produced by the guests. There was this girl—she must have been fifteen—who was doing Céline Dion and clearly for her, this was very, very important. I said to myself, Man, this girl is really going for it. And it’s funny because the next day, she was sitting alone at the breakfast table and I thought, Already the solitude of the star! I sensed that something like that can decide an entire life. So the comedian has a similar experience. He discovers all of sudden that he can make whole crowds laugh and it changes his life. The second thing was that I knew a woman who was editor in chief of a magazine and she was always inviting me to these hip events with Karl Lagerfeld, for example. I wanted to have someone who was part of that world.
On Anglo-Saxons (apparently including the Irish) and Americans:
And what do you think of this Anglo-Saxon world?
You can tell that this is the world that invented capitalism. There are private companies competing to deliver the mail, to collect the garbage. The financial section of the newspaper is much thicker than it is in French papers.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that men and women are more separate. When you go into a restaurant, for example, you often see women eating out together. The French from that point of view are very Latin. A single-sex dinner would be considered boring. In a hotel in Ireland, I saw a group of men talking golf at the breakfast table. They left and were replaced by a group of women who were discussing something else. It’s as if they’re separate species who meet occasionally for reproduction. There was a line I really liked in a novel by Coetzee. One of the characters suspects that the only thing that really interests his lesbian daughter in life is prickly-pear jam. Lesbianism is a pretext. She and her partner don’t have sex anymore, they dedicate themselves to decoration and cooking.
Maybe there’s some potential truth there about women who, in the end, have always been more interested in jam and curtains.
And men? What do you think interests them?
Little asses. I like Coetzee. He says things brutally, too.
You’ve said that you possibly had an American side to you. What is your evidence for this?
I have very little proof. There’s the fact that if I lived in an American context, I think I would have chosen a Lexus, which is the best quality for the price. And more obscurely, I have a dog that I know is very popular in the United States, a Welsh Corgi. One thing I don’t share is this American obsession with large breasts. That, I must admit, leaves me cold. But a two-car garage? I want one. A fridge with one of those ice-maker things? I want one too. What appeals to them appeals to me.
I find Mary Barnard’s photo on the Oregonencyclopedia:
Her literary career took her from a childhood in the Oregon backwoods, where she often traveled with her timber-wholesaler father, to Reed College in Portland, where she was introduced to the classics and to the modern poetic revolution by Lloyd Reynolds.
We’ve been thinking a lot about the glow of some of your poems, the visionary language seeping through parts of Angels, and the electric way in which the border between Fuckhead’s consciousness and the outside world is always being dissolved throughout Jesus’ Son. Could you talk a bit more about Whitman’s influence in your poetry and prose?
I’m not sure I could trace the lines of his influence on my language, particularly, or the way his work affects the strategies in my work, or anything like that. His expansive spirit, his generosity, his eagerness to love – those are the things that influence me, not just as a writer, but as a person. His introduction to LEAVES OF GRASS I take as a sort of personal manifesto, especially the passage:
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body. . . .
found in this interview with Denis Johnson. Oddly or presciently or synchronistically enough I’d been looking for Denis Johnson materials as I did ever so often. How did this guy know this stuff? was what I was looking for as usual.
May I please recommend to you you have actor Will Patton read you the audiobook of:
I loved the experience so much I got into the full unabridged 23+ hours of:
Will Patton is such a gifted, subtle performer of audiobooks.
Let’s give the last word to DJ:
I love McDonald’s double cheeseburgers and I don’t care if they’re made of pink slime and ammonia, I eat them all the time because they’re delicious.
Bored with science fiction and unable to interest publishers in his mainstream novels, Dick quit writing to help his new wife in her jewelry business. He liked that even less, and so he pretended to work on a new novel. To make it look realistic, he said in a 1976 interview with Science Fiction Review, he had to start typing.
What emerged was “The Man in the High Castle.” It was dedicated, cryptically and not altogether favorably, to his wife, “without whose silence this book would never have been written.” (In the 1970s, Dick changed the dedication, dropping Anne Dick entirely.)
Ms. Dick said she saw only the pilot of the Amazon series, finding the Nazis a little too threatening.
If you are interested in hearing some ideas that flutter between profound and totally bonkers might I suggest:
How paranoia is natural:
How about this?:
Just a guy with a fragile mind hanging out reading Gestapo documents in German up at UC Berkeley:
In Sweden there’s a fashion brand called Filippa K and I thought it would be funny for someone to do a mashup Filippa K Dick.
But who has the time.
Found here, what a great interview:
You have wondered at Kenneth Roberts’s working methods—his stamina and discipline. You said you often went to zoos rather than write. Can you say something of discipline and the writer?
Kenneth Roberts wrote historical novels. He knew just what he wanted to do and where he was going. He rose in the morning and went to work, methodically and industriously. This has not been true of me. The things I have managed to write have been varied and spotty—a mishmash. Except for certain routine chores, I never knew in the morning how the day was going to develop. I was like a hunter, hoping to catch sight of a rabbit. There are two faces to discipline. If a man (who writes) feels like going to a zoo, he should by all means go to a zoo. He might even be lucky, as I once was when I paid a call at the Bronx Zoo and found myself attending the birth of twin fawns. It was a fine sight, and I lost no time writing a piece about it. The other face of discipline is that, zoo or no zoo, diversion or no diversion, in the end a man must sit down and get the words on paper, and against great odds. This takes stamina and resolution. Having got them on paper, he must still have the discipline to discard them if they fail to measure up; he must view them with a jaundiced eye and do the whole thing over as many times as is necessary to achieve excellence, or as close to excellence as he can get. This varies from one time to maybe twenty.
The whole thing is good. White describes how he came to draw the above New Yorker cover, his only one. And he talks about the diaries of Francis Kilbert, which sure do sound interesting. (Jump to “4. Relations With Girls”)
Some real talk from Larry McMurtry
One of these days I’m going to rank all of McMurtry’s non-fiction books. They’re all chatty and great. This is the single best one.
Either Film Flam or Hollywood tells what it’s like to be friends with Diane Keaton and her mom.
McMurtry has really meant a lot to me. Here are some other posts about him: