Monday, January 29, 2007

An interview's treacherous waters

Featuring choice soundbites from Mark Twain, Theodore Dreiser, Jack Kerouac and others:
Interrogating writers for publication is indeed an adversarial experience (Twain thought it a kind of "torture"). Authors, as they are wont to do, wish to control their words—something easily done on the page, not so much so in conversation—while the interviewer strives to elicit something newsworthy or at least fresh. It is this tension between desire for control and the spontaneity integral to the situation that constitutes the literary interview's chief draw. Interviews with filmmakers, composers, and painters may be of great interest, but since their jobs aren't deploying just the right word in just the right place, there's less at stake. The interview is a particularly high-wire act for writers—sentences they might otherwise rewrite a dozen times turn up in print they way they fell from their tongues. And even though writers seek to impose intentionality on their spoken text, to craft their self-presentation as a director might stage a play, nevertheless there's always the possibility of a misstep, maybe even a tumble. Remarks may not be literature, but they are often a prelude to amusement or distress; daily life makes this all too plain to us.

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