Thursday, August 16, 2007

The novel as war

In the current edition of the Paris Review, there's an excellent interview of Norman Mailer by Andrew O'Hagan.

At one point in the interview, O'Hagan asks:
'Might it be said, in any event, that writing is a sort of self-annihiliation?'

Mailer replies:
'It uses you profoundly. There's simply less of you after you finish a book, which is why writers can be so absolutely enraged at cruel criticisms that they feel are unfair. We feel we have killed ourselves once writing the book, and now they are seeking to kill us again for too little... yet if you're writing a good novel they you're being an explorer - you're getting into something where you don't know the end, where the end is not given. There's a mixture of dread and excitement that keeps you going. To my mind, it's not worth writing a novel unless you're tackling something where your chances are open. You can fail. You're gambling with your psychic reserves. It's as if you were the general of an army of one, and this general can really drive that army into a cul-de-sac.'

There's an videoed interview here.


Paul said...

Ah, yes - the cul-de-sac. A place my writing has taken me on many an occasion!

Yellow Cake said...

Mailer sounds like some sort of a drama queen. The question posed by O'Hagan makes the interviewer appear as some sort of enabler, to boot.

The "self-annihilation" portion of writing takes place during the actual process of conjuring up fresh ideas. The research, energy and inspiration needed to write something viable isn't an easy task, either.

After completion, one should experience the feeling of self-satisfaction and relief. One should step back, for a moment, and admire his or her handiwork.

Anonymous Bosch said...

Unrelated to your blog but maybe useful to you -
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Sarah said...

I think we've all been to this cul-de-sac, Paul. It's full of writers trying to reverse out!
I'm not sure, yellow cake - personally I feel drained and lost after writing a novel rather than any sense of relief. It's only now, what, four years later, I can look back at my first and feel any sense of unambigious satisfaction. But I like what he says about not needing to know you're going to win from the outset. There needs to be a sense of danger about writing for me, otherwise what's the point? It just doesn't matter.
Useful, anonymous. They do good gf christmas cake too but I didn't know they did chocolate cake. Good news!